“This crisis has hit our business hard, at both the supply and distribution end,” said Thanh Huendoc, who manages a large Burmese-Thai trafficking syndicate. “We’re looking at huge losses this year.”
With flooding paralyzing transport through Thailand’s central region, many human traffickers are having a hard time getting their cargo from the border to storage warehouses in the eastern seaboard, or to the deep south for export to Malaysia.
“We’ve had to create new delivery routes, which increases overhead costs,” Thanh explained. “We may have to raise prices on our trafficked humans, which would reduce our competitiveness.”
Thailand’s human trafficking industry has seen robust growth and record profits since 1997, when the economic recession loosened up supply and made Thai exports cheaper against the global market. However, with disruption to supply current business leaders fear that their customers may go elsewhere.
“I’ve got to get 100 passport-less Cambodian women to Romania by the end of November,” said Wichit Poonchonsiri, a human trafficking agent based in Aranyaprathet. “But with floodwaters making it impossible to reach Lad Krabang port, I may miss my deadline. My clients might just go with Latvian girls being sold from Albania. It’s a tough market.”
Additionally, human traffickers are complaining that their usual government contacts are less available because of the flood crisis.
“Normally I rely on a certain Army general to pre-stamp my trucking paperwork,” said Wichit. “But now he’s doing press conferences and photo ops with soldiers making sandbags. He won’t even take my calls. As a 20% partner of the operation he should be more responsible.”
Despite the setbacks, most human traffickers remain optimistic that their industry can withstand the crisis and recover any lost growth.
“There are two things that the world will always pay for – rice and slaves,” said Thanh. “We’ll come back next year stronger than ever. But some tax breaks would help.”
Commerce Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong declined to comment on specific help that the government might lend to the human trafficking industry. However, he said that with up to 600,000 people rendered unemployed by the inundation of 14,000 factories, the labor pool might increase, reducing sourcing costs.
“We have many Thais in desperate need of work, any work, for the near and mid-term future,” he said. “Every industry has to pitch in and help provide jobs. Our human traffickers – and we have some of the world’s best – can play a major role in that.”